Fanfan is a handsome young peasant. He joins the army to escape a forced marriage and because a gypsy girl predicted he will earn glory and the king's daughter as a wife. But the 'gypsy' girl was in fact Adeline, the daughter of the recruiting officer. Once he has discovered the stratagem, Fanfan refuses to forget this dream and decides to fulfill the destiny of the fake prediction. Fantastic swashbuckling adventures in a 18th Century setting, with a light criticism of the war and the mighty.Written by
This is the last of four swashbucklers from France I've scheduled for viewing during this Christmas season: the others (in order of viewing) were the uninspired THE BLACK TULIP (1964; from the same director as this one but not nearly as good), the surprisingly effective LADY Oscar (1979; which had originated as a Japanese manga!) and the splendid CARTOUCHE (1962). Actually, I had watched this one not too long ago on late-night Italian TV and recall not being especially bowled over by it, so that I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed it this time around (also bearing in mind the baffling lack of enthusiasm shown towards the film here and elsewhere when it was first announced as an upcoming DVD release from Criterion).
Incidentally, FANFAN LA TULIPE has quite a bit in common with the afore-mentioned CARTOUCHE: not just cast and crew members (producers Georges Dancigers and Alexandre Mnouchkine, cinematographer Christian Matras, actor Noel Roquevert) but plot-wise as well in fact, the hero is a womanizing soldier (Jean-Paul Belmondo's Cartouche had also had a brief military spell) who's loved by a fiery girl (in this case, gypsy Gina Lollobrigida) while he's himself obsessed by an impossible love (here, it's none other than the king's daughter)! As in the later film, too, Fanfan (an ideally cast Gerard Philipe who, ironically, is so full of life here that one finds it hard to believe that he would be stricken down by cancer within 7 years' time) is flanked by two fun-loving yet cowardly men (one of them is actually his superior officer and the heroine's own father) and opposed by an unscrupulous figure within his own ranks (the ageing Roquevert, with whom the hero eventually engages in a rooftop duel since he too has amorous designs on the gypsy girl)!; for the record, Lollobrigida will rejoin Philippe in her next film, Rene Clair's delightful romantic fantasy LES BELLES DE NUIT (1952).
FANFAN proved to be a big box-office hit on its home-ground and even copped a surprising (but well-deserved) Best Direction award at Cannes over more renowned films like AN American IN Paris (1951), DETECTIVE STORY (1951), OTHELLO, UMBERTO D. and VIVA ZAPATA! In fact, its popularity ensured its re-release in a computer-colored version (presumably for the benefit of viewers who wouldn't touch a black-and-white product with a ten-foot pole) and the Criterion DVD itself contains a sample from this variant; being obviously a foreign-language title, there's also the dubious choice of an English-dubbed soundtrack but, even if these proved not especially painful to sit through considering, when all is said and done, there's simply no substitute for the original!
FANFAN LA TULIPE (a nickname given the hero by a young Genevieve Page as the celebrated Madame De Pompadour) contains about as much comedy as (the expected) action and romance; while some may find this overwhelming, I don't agree myself as I enjoyed the sharply satirical narration and, on the whole, this combination is comparable with Jerzy Skolimowski's equally droll THE ADVENTURES OF GERARD (1970). That said, the swordfights here are remarkably forceful for an essentially lighthearted enterprise (particularly a scuffle in the woods and the ambush at a convent) and the film itself rather adult at times (with numerous allusions to sexuality as well as coarse language adopted throughout) when viewed back-to-back with vintage Hollywood fare as I did now; the climax, then is quite ingenious: the enemy forces (who, amusingly, are made to speak in speeded-up gibberish!) are depleted by our heroic trio alone, much to the king's amazement who, as portrayed by Marcel Herrand best-known for his role of leader of the Parisian underworld in Marcel Carne''s CHILDREN OF PARADISE (1945) is himself something of a lecher.
P.S. An Italian TV channel has been threatening to screen Christian-Jaque's promising CHAMPAGNE FOR SAVAGES (1964) for months now but, despite programming it three times already (with a tentative fourth one slated for next week), they have yet to show it; even so, I do have three more films of his in my unwatched VHS pile (equally culled from late-night Italian TV screenings): the three-hour epic LA CHARTREUSE DE PARME (1948; also starring Gerard Philippe), THE SECOND TWIN (1967) and THE LEGEND OF FRENCHIE KING (1971; with Brigitte Bardot and Claudia Cardinale).
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